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Pakistani-Indian peace process may be crumbling

Although newly instated Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has promised to attempt to heal the often-tattered relationship between Pakistan and India during his next term, urging the two nations to come together with a “clean heart,” a recent spurt of fighting in Kashmir may make this peace process more difficult than expected.

The history of the conflict in Kashmir is long and complicated, stretching back to the very beginning of both Pakistan and India in 1947. For going on seven decades, Kashmiri insurgents have been fighting the Indian central government for either the annexation of Kashmir by Pakistan or for complete Kashmiri independence, depending on the insurgent group. Many of the groups favoring annexation by Pakistan were connected to Pakistani insurgents with support from the Pakistani military.

For a time in the second half of the 21st century, it appeared that conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir was dying down as a result of newly instituted democratic means of airing grievances for the Kashmiri people, however, in recent years, the conflict has sparked up once more. 

These past few weeks in particular have seen an uptick in violence. On Tuesday, Pakistani militants crossed the border into Kashmir and killed five Indian troops, and the next day there appeared to have been retaliation on the Indian side, as they shelled the Battal area of Pakistani Kashmir.

This violence will likely not make Sharif’s proclaimed efforts to build peace between India and Pakistan any easier. In a symbolic gesture, the usual annual exchange of sweets between the two countries’ soldiers at the border city of Srinagar did not occur this year. Today, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a public statement asking Islamabad to stop allowing Islamist militants to enter Indian Kashmiri territory. Thus far, Sharif has not responded to Singh’s request, although the two leaders are predicted to meet in New York at the United Nations General Assembly meeting, with the eventual goal of restoring healthy ties between their two states.

But Sharif may encounter even more difficulties in peace building from the Indian side. Singh is under a lot of pressure from his constituents to adopt a tough policy towards Pakistan, and India’s main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been pressuring Singh not to meet with Sharif at the U.N. conference in light of the renewed violence in Kashmir.

It is, however, important to Sharif that good relations be restored. He was elected this year on an anti-terrorism, pro-peace platform, and if he does not deliver on controlling Islamist militants, then both of those tenants will be unfulfilled, possibly leading to an unseating in the next election.

Luckily, in addition to a desire for peace among the Pakistani people, Sharif’s aims are also reinforced by a desire for peace on the Indian side. Former Indian Foreign Secretary Salman Haider admits that Sharif has “tried” to improve relations between Pakistan and India, and recognizes that forces within Pakistan are limiting him from fully acting on these promises. Indian President Pranab Mukherjee promised in an independence day speech this week that “Our commitment to peace is unfailing.” Nevertheless, in order for this peace to take root, promises on both sides of the border must be kept.

By Laura Gates

Source: Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Reuters

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